The title refers to those at the end of the employment rope, but it’s unclear who this exploitative piece hopes to move.
Like Barbara Ehrenreich’s “undercover” investigation Nickel and Dimed but with a lower budget for specifics, this grim portrait of ill-used temp workers is high-minded poverty porn: patronizing, generalizing and sensationalizing. Created and first staged in London by writer-director Alexander Zeldin, Beyond Caring was brought to Lookingglass by ensemble member David Schwimmer and his company Dark Harbor Stories. It’s been cursorily updated for Chicago, inasmuch as Tracy (J. Nicole Brooks) wears a Sox hat and temperamental manager Ian (Keith D. Gallagher) cluelessly asks her if she’s heard of Chance the Rapper.
Tracy, Sonia (Wendy Mateo) and Ebony-Grace (Caren Blackmore) are the new hires at an anonymous sausage factory where they join long-term employee Phil (Edwin Lee Gibson) and overseer Ian on overnight shifts working cleanup. Ian puts the crew through night after night of mushily-motivated indignities, while we catch skewed, brief glimpses of the characters’ greater predicaments: Tracy can’t get a day off to attend her child’s special occasion of some kind; Phil also has a daughter he’s semi-estranged from and locks himself in the bathroom for a while. Ian deflects questions about their ever-delayed paychecks to their temp agencies.
The cast’s fine, thoughtful performances would go a long way toward redeeming this odd piece if it remained merely as obviously monotonous as one of these late-night shifts would be. But in the play’s last scenes Zeldin turns the exploitation dial up to 11, and Beyond Caring dissolves into a desperation zoo, where well-off audience members can observe the purported behaviors of the poor in an unnatural habitat.
Lookingglass Theatre Company in association with Dark Harbor Stories. Written and directed by Alexander Zeldin. With Caren Blackmore, J. Nicole Brooks, Keith D. Gallagher, Edwin Lee Gibson, Wendy Mateo. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.